How to Develop Executive Presence and Gravitas


September 2014
by Sandra Zimmer


Executive Presence is hard to describe but easy to recognize in a room of people. In a group meeting, one person will stand out as a leader because that person exhibits a quality of gravitas. That person may or may not be the stated leader.

Companies often ask me to work with emerging leaders to help them develop executive presence. The emerging leader is undoubtedly talented, smart and experienced in his area of expertise, but may lack a sense of executive presence. That lack of gravitas makes it harder for others to trust him to lead.

Because executive presence is hard to describe or define, this article may help you to understand, so that you can begin to intentionally develop gravitas.

Gravitas definitions at Wikipedia

Gravitas was one of the Roman virtues, along with pietas, dignitas and virtus. According to Wikipedia, gravitas may be translated variously as weight, seriousness and dignity, also importance. Gravitation, or gravity, is a natural phenomenon by which all physical bodies attract each other. Gravity gives weight to physical objects and causes them to fall toward the ground when dropped.

Gravitas is experienced as feeling grounded in the physical body

Executive presence is a bodily-felt experience of weight that attracts other’s attention and commands respect. A significant aspect of executive presence is having a sense of weight in the physical body which we call grounding or being grounded.

To be grounded is to feel energy, sensation and awareness in the whole body, especially the legs and feet. It may sound crazy, but simply learning to put energy and awareness into the legs and feet will develop gravitas.

In group speaking classes where we practice developing a grounded presence in front of a supportive group, participants easily perceive the difference in their classmate’s ability to hold the center of attention after a few grounding exercises.

How we talk about gravitas

I recently read a serious blog post with a tongue-in-cheek title by Diane DiResta concerning executive presence. One of the phrases she used to describe executive presence is the ability to put a stake in the ground. Think about other phrases we commonly use to try to express a sense of gravitas. Some of those phrases include putting your foot down, taking a stand, standing up for yourself or for a cause, stepping up to the plate, standing on your own two feet. All of these refer to the ability to stand out, stand alone and stand firm. All of these require awareness of grounding in the physical body that is perceived by others as gravitas.

How grounding in the body helps develop gravitas and executive presence

Presence is a sense of being here now or being in the moment which allows you to focus attention on what is happening now. When you are present you can think what you are thinking, know what you know and feel what you feel… at this moment. The only place you can be totally present is inside your physical body. Your body is the most present part of you as a human being. Your mind can be focused anywhere in the universe; but, when you focus attention in your body, you become present.

Grounding in the body is a meditative exercise that develops presence, period. Whether your goal is executive presence, focused attention for a task, focus for athletics, comfort in your skin for public speaking or presence for meditation, learning to ground your attention in your physical body will contribute significantly to your success.

When you ground yourself, you feel at ease, strong, solid and contained physically. Mentally you experience clear-headedness, focused attention and a sense of internal space that gives you time to think. Emotionally, being grounded gives a sense of confidence and comfort to be who you are. All of that adds up to a huge boost in ability to contribute your ideas, insights and expertise. Hence, your gravitas and executive presence increase.

Can it be that simple to develop executive presence?

Yes, but. Yes, through repeated practice of grounding your body, you will naturally develop greater presence and gravitas. But, you still have to take the risk to speak up and contribute your insights. Feeling grounded will make you feel safer to take those risks. You will also have to be able to hold firm when resistance to your idea arises. Grounding will make it easier to hold firm to your position. There are several skills involved in executive presence which I will outline in a future article.

Access a grounding exercise

You can develop grounding in your body in several ways. Working out at a gym, athletics, jumping on a trampoline and walking are all helpful ways to ground your body. However, exercise does not necessarily focus attention inside your body. I teach a simple meditation that helps you learn to ground yourself in your body. My meditation for grounding can be downloaded for a modest fee of $16.00 US. Practice this exercise daily to build a sense of gravitas and to help develop executive presence. Practice it also before an important meeting, group experience, presentation or interview.

Please stay tuned for another post on the elements of executive presence.


Sandra Zimmer is the President and Founder of the Self-Expression Center in Houston, Texas.  She works with professionals who are struggling with communication, who are gripped with fear about speaking to groups or who don't like the sound of their voice.  She guides people through experiential learning programs that connect them with their natural abilities to express, communicate and present so the feel confident to share their ideas, insights and expertise with the world.  Sandra can be reached at 281-293-7070 or at  her websites are and



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